“It's still magic even if you know how it's done.”
I'm spending this week getting ready for Christmas, as I know many of you are. Tomorrow, I'll be boiling up sugar and trying not to singe my fingertips while I make my grandma's peanut brittle, and while I'm doing it, more or less on my own, I'll be thinking about the hours spent with my dad in my grandma's kitchen, the three of us the only ones willing to butter up our hands and stretch the boiling, sticky candy into flossy strands. I remember being taught to do it; how to make sure to get butter all over, into every crease of skin, under your fingernails, so the candy can't stick to you. As far as I know, we're still the only three people who will do it.
I hadn't had any since I'd moved to Canada. The biggest reason was that I had neither a big enough freezer nor enough outdoor space to chill the marble slab for pouring the candy onto. Since we moved, though, I have both, so last year I decided to try it. I tried to teach G to do the stretching part, but he burnt his fingers and is afraid to try again. It remains to be seen whether the final product is worth the effort of doing it alone, or if what made the thing special was doing it with other people.
Like a lot of adults, I find Christmastime a little trying. My in-laws are Christmas People, and the pile of traditions in their household are heartwarming and kind, but while they've made significant efforts to make me a part of the family (there are, after all, a few new traditions since I've been around), there are many parts of Christmas with the Careys to which I'm always going to be a newcomer. Thirty years of family Christmases mean there's a lot of expectation stacked onto a small number of days.
I've never been all that great with excitement. I plan with great proficiency, but actually looking forward to the outcomes of all that planning I find really difficult. Partly it's a fear of disappointment, certainly. Partly it's that I suspect the brain paths for excitement and the brain paths for anxiety are very similar paths, and I prefer to avoid the anxiety. But I've also read several studies in the last few years that have found that people who do get excited tend to enjoy things more, and they enjoy both the event itself and the lead-up to it. Furthermore, they are happier even when the thing doesn't go the way they'd hoped. Learning this was a little bit life-changing.
We went and saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the theater last week, and in it, one of the main characters says "When you worry, you suffer twice." Imagine the double-take I had at that line. Because of course: being excited means you get to enjoy a good thing twice; hedging your bets on excitement just means you feel the bad things twice as hard. And maybe there's a chance that, if the paths for anxiety and excitement are the same, I could just possibly turn anxiety into excitement instead of the other way around.
That's one of the things I'm working on, in any case. It's Christmastime; maybe there's room for a little magic. And like all magic, a little bit of making it real is just believing in it and expecting it to be true.
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